50 Facts About Every Candy in Your Bag

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Haul of Fame: From Reese's to Twizzlers, some candies are guaranteed to end up in your bag this Halloween. Unwrap these tidbits about a few of the most popular sugary treats.

1. OVER 200 MILLION SKITTLES ARE PRODUCED DAILY.

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The colorful treats were originally imported when they were first sold in 1979. Today, they are manufactured in the United States—by the millions.

2. MILK DUDS WERE NAMED AFTER A FLUKE.

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Instead of the symmetric candies they were intended to be, the first batch of this chocolate caramel candy came out of machinery oval-shaped. When an employee F. Hoffman & Company, the company producing the brand, called them “duds” and the name stuck.

3. THE MYSTERY FLAVOR OF DUM DUMS ISN’T A COMPLETE MYSTERY.

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The mixture for these lollipops, which often don wrappers with question marks, is created when the last of one batch of the candy is combined with the beginning of a new batch.

4. SWEDISH FISH ARE VEGAN AND VEGETARIAN-FRIENDLY.

Swedish Fish
C. C. Chapman, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

These vending machine staples—which first appeared in the U.S. in that late 1950s—fall in the “starch jellies” category, defined as firmer gummy candies that don’t contain any gelatin.

5. SOUR PATCH KIDS HAVE OUT-OF-THIS-WORLD ORIGINS.

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Initially dubbed Mars Men, these Canadian creations were inspired by the growing fascination with UFOs in the '70s. However, when they made their way to the U.S. in 1985, the name was changed to Sour Patch Kids, to reflect a more timely American obsession: Cabbage Patch Kids.

6. MIKE AND IKE ARE FICTIONAL.

Mike and Ike
Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The fruit-inspired sweets from the Just Born company aren't named after real people, according to the brand. But that hasn't stopped fans from coming up with their own theories about the inspiration behind the name. Some believe Mike and Ike is a reference to a popular vaudeville act, while others attribute it to a 1937 song “Mike and Ike (The Twins).”

7. THE “LOLLI” IN LOLLIPOP PROBABLY DOESN’T MEAN WHAT YOU THINK IT DOES.

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While many believe that the word for the handheld candy comes from ice-lollies (also known as ice pops or popsicles), which hang downward as they melt, that’s not the case. Instead, lolly is an Old English dialect term for the tongue.

8. DOVE CHOCOLATE IS THE MOST POPULAR CANDY IN CHINA.

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Frazer Harrison // Staff // Getty Images

The chocolate company may be headquartered in the United States, but it scores high marks overseas. By some estimates, about 34 percent of the chocolate consumed in China is made by Dove.

9. KIT KATS WERE ORIGINALLY CREATED TO BE CONSUMED WITH TEA.

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Early marketing for the popular wafer candy focusing on selling the Kit Kat as a meal, but the company also encouraged customers to treat it as a snack. One example: a Kit Kat slogan that called the treat “the best companion to a cup of tea.”

10. CANDY CORN STARTED OUT AS “CHICKEN FEED.”

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The colors of the popular Halloween candy are inspired by the shades of actual corn kernels.

11. YOUR FAVORITE PROBABLY MAKES AN APPEARANCE IN THE GUINNESS RECORD-HOLDING LARGEST COLLECTION OF CANDY WRAPPERS.

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For more than three decades, Milan Lukich Valdivia from Tacna, Peru, amassed a total of 5065 candy wrappers from 49 countries. The collection claimed the title in 2015.

12. FRINGE LOVERS FAN OUT OVER RED VINES.

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Nik Pawlak, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

When the Fox sci-fi series—which ran from 2008 to 2013—was in danger of not having a fourth season, fans sent the studio a sweet surprise: 200 cases of Red Vines, a favorite of one of the characters on the show. And it worked. The show eventually went off the air after five seasons.

13. TOOTSIE ROLLS HELPED PERK UP WORLD WAR II SOLDIERS.

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Treasured for their ability to withstand hot weather and stay in mint condition over time, Tootsie Rolls were seen as a small bite of “quick energy” by the U.S. military during World War II.

14. HERSHEY’S CHOCOLATE HAS LANDED ON THE MOON.

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A heat-resistant version of the chocolate bar called the Hershey’s Tropical Chocolate Bar was created in collaboration with the military. The treat, which could last up to an hour in 120 degree temperatures, was placed aboard Apollo 15 in 1971.

15. ACROSS THE COUNTRY, REESE’S REIGN SUPREME.

Kim Jones, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

By some estimates, Reese’s cups earn the number one spot among Halloween candy brands. In fact, Hershey sells more than $500 million worth of Reese’s annually.

16. IN GERMANY, KIDS SCORE FREE HARIBO GUMMIES ONCE A YEAR.

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The HARIBO candy factory is located in Bonn, western Germany.
PATRIK STOLLARZ / Staff // Getty Images

Every October, a tradition that started in the 1930s continues: Kids can visit the Haribo headquarters to trade in acorns and chestnuts for free gummy treats.

17. YOU PROBABLY REACH FOR MIKE AND IKE AT THE MOVIES.

Mike & Ike
Alex Guerrero, Flickr // CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

The candy brand is the best-selling non-chocolate candy at movie theaters—and has commanded that spot for years.

18. CHOCOLATE SHOULD BE STORED AT ROOM TEMPERATURE.

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Experts warn that storing your sweet stuff in the fridge will lead to condensation. “Water is the enemy of chocolate,” Andrew Black of MAST Chocolate—the New York-based bean-to-bar chocolate makers—told Mental Floss.

19. AT THE NEW JERSEY FACTORY, 2 BILLION M&M’S ARE PRODUCED EVERY EIGHT HOURS.

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That means that 69,000 of the mini chocolates are manufactured every second.

20. HERSHEY'S KISSES STARTED OUT AS A LABOR OF LOVE.

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Lori & Todd, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In 1907, when the drop-sized chocolate candies were first introduced, workers wrapped each one by hand.

21. HARIBO TREATS DELIGHT IN DENMARK.

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PATRIK STOLLARZ / Staff // Getty Images

The company, notorious for their gummy bears, is the most popular candy brand among Danes. But residents of Denmark are known for having a sweet tooth in general. Compared to the average European, each Danish citizen eats twice as much sweets, at an average of 18 pounds annually.

22. MILKY WAYS DIDN'T ALWAYS INCLUDE CARAMEL.

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Amy the Nurse, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

It’s hard to believe that the candy bar’s most well-known feature wasn't always there, but the original ingredients included eggs, sugar, and air.

23. YOU WON’T FIND FIZZL’D FRUITS SKITTLES.

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You might be able to “taste the rainbow” by way of six flavor sets of Skittles, but the Fizzl’d Fruits isn't one of them. The powder-covered Skittles were discontinued in 2012.

24. MILK CHOCOLATE WAS CREATED BY THE SWISS.

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After attempting to combine milk with chocolate for eight years, Switzerland-based confectioner Daniel Peter finally discovered the necessary ingredient to make the combo work in 1870: condensed milk, made by his neighbor Henri Nestlé.

25. PEZ CANDIES PACK IN A LOT OF PRESSURE.

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Dave Lawler, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

3000 pounds, to be exact. That’s what it takes to turn the raw ingredients of the sugary treat into Pez candy.

26. CARAMEL AND BUTTERSCOTCH ARE SIMILAR BUT NOT THE SAME.

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Both mixtures include melted sugar, vanilla, and butter. But while caramel is based in white granulated sugar, butterscotch uses brown sugar instead.

27. BEING ABLE TO HOLD A PEZ DISPENSER WITH ONE HAND WAS A DESIGN GOAL.

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The flip-top dispenser has a very deliberate design. According to the original patent, the one-hand opening was “important not only for persons having only one hand but also persons who often have only one hand free (for example motor-vehicle drivers), or whose occupation causes their hands to become smeared with dirt.”

28. REESE’S PIECES WEREN’T ALWAYS REESE’S PIECES.

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Ravi Shah, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Hershey debuted the bite-sized peanut butter cups in 1978 with the name PBs before they were eventually renamed Reese's Pieces.

29. THERE’S A REASON HARIBO’S GUMMIES ARE BEAR-SHAPED.

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Founder Hans Riegel was inspired by the festivals in his home country of Germany and the dancing bears beloved by children at those celebrations.

30. EVERY YEAR ABOUT ONE MILLION MILES OF TWIZZLERS ARE PRODUCED.

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That’s nearly 76 times the length of the Great Wall of China.

31. THERE IS A DUM DUMS LOLLIPOP MASCOT.

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Sarah Browning, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Conceptualized in 1966, the Drum Man travels across the country, waving with his white-gloved hands and spreading the word about Dum Dums.

32. STARBURSTS ARE AVAILABLE IN ALL-PINK SETS.

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But you’ll probably have to hit eBay to find them. The limited edition strawberry-only packs were released for a short run in April 2017.

33. THE JOLLY RANCHER NAME HAS SWEET INTENTIONS.

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Dave Kirkman, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

According to the company, the name Jolly Rancher was chosen for these bright-colored treats “to suggest a hospitable, western company.”

34. LAFFY TAFFY AND RUNTS WERE BOTH LAUNCHED BY A CLASSIC FILM.

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Jasmin Fine, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (which was financed by Quaker Oats) brought both attention and sales to the sweet treats featured on-screen.

35. TODAY'S SNICKERS ARE SLIGHTLY SLIMMER.

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In 2013, candy empire Mars Inc. put all of their chocolate products on a diet, promising to only sell sweets that were 250 calories or less. That meant fans had to say goodbye to king-sized versions of their favorite treats and also that the regular-sized, 280-calorie Snickers bar got a makeover.

36. IN CANADA, SMARTIES ARE KNOWN AS ROCKETS.

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The treats (which pack in 25 calories per roll) are produced 24 hours a day in New Jersey and Ontario, but they have different names in each location. 

37. CHEWING GUM CAN HELP PREVENT SONGS FROM GETTING STUCK IN YOUR HEAD.

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Gum can do more than occupy your mouth, it can also help occupy your mind. According to scientists from the U.K.'s University of Redding, chowing down on the sticky substance helps to temporarily degrade your short-term memory, making it easier to shake off a tune that you can't stop thinking about.

38. BUTTERFINGER COMMERCIALS INTRODUCED MANY PEOPLE TO THE SIMPSONS CHARACTERS.

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The iconic TV family didn't make their first appearance on the silver screen when The Simpsons premiered on Fox in 1989. The characters actually started on the comedy variety series The Tracey Ullman Show and likely picked up their biggest audience when they starred in Butterfinger commercials in 1988.

39. ALL OF THE SUGAR IN YOUR HERSHEY'S TREAT WILL BE SUSTAINABLY SOURCED BY 2020.

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In May 2016, the company announced plans to establish "rigorous standards to ensure sugar has been responsibly grown and harvested." There are also plans to sustainably source 100 percent of its cocoa by the deadline as well, up from 50 percent in 2016.

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The fruit leather-inspired snack got a shout-out from the popular sitcom in 2000.

40. JELLY BELLY'S VOMIT-FLAVORED JELLY BEAN WAS BORN WHILE TRYING TO MAKE A PIZZA-FLAVORED VARIETY.

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While the process for created a unconventional Jelly Belly flavor is elaborate and thorough, sometimes there are happy accidents.

41. MILKY WAY BARS STARTED OUT SUPERSIZED.

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The original Milky Way treats weighed more than 3 ounces, compared to the just over 1.8 ounces that they are today. The reasoning: Mars Company founder Forrest Mars thought his treats would quite literally overshadow their Hershey bar competitors. He once said, “People walked up to the candy counter and they’d see this flat little Hershey bar for a nickel and right next to it, a giant Milky Way. Guess which one they’d pick?”

42. IN THE LATE 1980S, THERE WAS A NERDS CEREAL.

A 1986 commercial introduced fans of the sugary treat to Nerds cereal, which featured two flavors in one box and spouts on each side. After disappointing sales, the product was removed from shelves.

43. COWS MAY LIKE CANDY AS MUCH AS WE DO.

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For years, companies have been selling off their defective sweets (like Skittles, gummy worms, and dried fruit) to farms. With increasing prices for corn feed and other traditional cattle food, these treats are a cheaper alternative to fill the animals' starchy sugar needs.

44. BUTTERFINGERS WERE THE FOLLOW-UP TO BABY RUTH CANDY BARS.

Both chocolate bars are products of Curtiss Candy, a company that was once one of the largest candy competitors in the business.

45. SOUR PATCH KIDS ARE TONGUE-ACTIVATED.

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The ingredient list for Sour Patch Kids includes citric and tartaric acids, both full of protons that allow our tongues to recognize the sour flavor. When you pop a Sour Patch Kid into your mouth, those ingredients mix with saliva and the protons increase, upping the sour flavor.

46. ACROSS THE WORLD, NOT ALL KIT KATS ARE CREATED EQUAL.

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Kit Kat Singles are sold in Switzerland.
FABRICE COFFRINI / Staff // Getty Images

The number of “fingers” varies from country to country. Aussie Kit Kat fans can enjoy a 12-finger block, while those in the Middle East are used to Kit Kats sold with three fingers.

47. MARS BARS ARE AVAILABLE IN A SPREADABLE FORM.

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The Mars bounty spread mimics the flavors of the candy bar, including coconut flakes.

48. HEATH BARS WERE ORIGINALLY MARKETED AS A HEALTHY TREAT.

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The candy—a combination of butter, sugar, almonds, and milk chocolate— was once thought to pep a person up.

49. THE CREATORS OF AIRHEADS REPORTEDLY ONCE TRIED TO DO THE IMPOSSIBLE: MAKE A SUCCESSFUL GRAPE ICE CREAM.

Airheads
Special, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Unfortunately, it wasn't successful. Just like similar products from other companies that have made the attempt, including Ben & Jerry's, Airheads’s grape flavor didn't fly off the shelves. Though it’s possible to make the ice cream flavor on a large scale, there’s a reason it will probably never become more popular.

50. OCTOBER 28 IS A BIG DAY FOR CANDY CORN.

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The official National Candy Corn day might be October 30, but according to sales, it’s unofficially on October 28, the day when the largest amount of the tri-colored candy is sold.

14 Facts About Celiac Disease

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Going gluten-free may be a modern diet trend, but people have been suffering from celiac disease—a chronic condition characterized by gluten intolerance—for centuries. Patients with celiac are ill-equipped to digest products made from certain grains containing gluten; wheat is the most common. In the short-term this can cause gastrointestinal distress, and in the long-term it can foster symptoms associated with early death.

Celiac diagnoses are more common than ever, which also means awareness of how to live with the condition is at an all-time high. Here are some things you might not know about celiac disease symptoms and treatments.

1. Celiac an autoimmune disease.

The bodies of people with celiac have a hostile reaction to gluten. When the protein moves through the digestive tract, the immune system responds by attacking the small intestine, causing inflammation that damages the lining of the organ. As this continues over time, the small intestine has trouble absorbing nutrients from other foods, which can lead to additional complications like anemia and osteoporosis.

2. You can get celiac disease from your parents.

Nearly all cases of celiac disease arise from certain variants of the genes HLA-DQA1 and HLA-DQB1. These genes help produce proteins in the body that allow the immune system to identify potentially dangerous foreign substances. Normally the immune system wouldn't label gliadin, a segment of the gluten protein, a threat, but due to mutations in these genes, the bodies of people with celiac treat gliadin as a hostile invader.

Because it's a genetic disorder, people with a first-degree relative (a sibling, parent, or child) with celiac have a 4 to 15 percent chance of having it themselves. And while almost all patients with celiac have these specific HLA-DQA1 and HLA-DQB1 variations, not everyone with the mutations will develop celiac. About 30 percent of the population has these gene variants, and only 3 percent of that group goes on to develop celiac disease.

3. Makeup might contribute to celiac disease symptoms.

People with celiac disease can’t properly process gluten, the protein naturally found in the grains like wheat, rye, and barley. Patients have to follow strict dietary guidelines and avoid most bread, pasta, and cereal, in order to manage their symptoms. But gluten isn’t limited to food products: It can also be found in some cosmetics. While makeup containing gluten causes no issues for many people with celiac, it can provoke rashes in others or lead to more problems if ingested. For those folks, gluten-free makeup is an option.

4. The name comes from 1st-century Greece.

A 1st-century Greek physician named Aretaeus of Cappadocia may have been the first person to describe celiac disease symptoms in writing [PDF]. He named it koiliakos after the Greek word koelia for abdomen, and he referred to people with the condition as coeliacs. In his description he wrote, “If the stomach be irretentive of the food and if it pass through undigested and crude, and nothing ascends into the body, we call such persons coeliacs.”

5. There are nearly 300 celiac disease symptoms.

Celiac disease may start in the gut, but it can be felt throughout the whole body. In children, the condition usually manifests as bloating, diarrhea, and abdominal discomfort, but as patients get older they start to experience more “non-classical” symptoms like anemia, arthritis, and fatigue. There are at least 281 symptoms associated with celiac disease, many of which overlap with other conditions and make celiac hard to diagnose. Other common symptoms of the disease include tooth discoloration, anxiety and depression, loss of fertility, and liver disorders. Celiac patients also have a greater chance of developing an additional autoimmune disorder, with the risk increasing the later in life the initial condition is diagnosed.

6. Some patients show no symptoms at all.

It’s not uncommon for celiac disease to be wrecking a patient’s digestive tract while showing no apparent symptoms. This form of the condition, sometimes called asymptomatic or “silent celiac disease,” likely contributes to part of the large number of people with celiac who are undiagnosed. People who are at high risk for the disease (the children of celiac sufferers, for example), or who have related conditions like type 1 diabetes and Down syndrome (both conditions that put patients at a greater risk for developing new autoimmune diseases) are encouraged to get tested for it even if they aren’t showing any signs.

7. It’s not the same as wheat sensitivity.

Celiac is often confused with wheat sensitivity, a separate condition that shares many symptoms with celiac, including gastrointestinal issues, depression, and fatigue. It’s often called gluten sensitivity or gluten intolerance, but because doctors still aren’t sure if gluten is the cause, many refer to it as non-celiac wheat sensitivity. There’s no test for it, but patients are often treated with the same gluten-free diet that’s prescribed to celiac patients.

8. It's not a wheat allergy either.

Celiac disease is often associated with wheat because it's one of the more common products containing gluten. While it's true that people with celiac can't eat wheat, the condition isn't a wheat allergy. Rather than reacting to the wheat, patients react to a specific protein that's found in the grain as well as others.

9. It can develop at any age.

Just because you don’t have celiac now doesn’t mean you’re in the clear for life: The disease can develop at any age, even in people who have tested negative for it previously. There are, however, two stages of life when symptoms are most likely to appear: early childhood (8 to 12 months) and middle adulthood (ages 40 to 60). People already genetically predisposed to celiac become more susceptible to it when the composition of their intestinal bacteria changes as they get older, either as a result of infection, surgery, antibiotics, or stress.

10. Not all grains are off-limits.

A gluten-free diet isn’t necessarily a grain-free diet. While it’s true that the popular grains wheat, barley, and rye contain gluten, there are plenty of grains and seeds that don’t and are safe for people with celiac to eat. These include quinoa, millet, amaranth, buckwheat, sorghum, and rice. Oats are also naturally gluten-free, but they're often contaminated with gluten during processing, so consumers with celiac should be cautious when buying them.

11. Celiac disease can be detected with a blood test.

Screenings for celiac disease used to be an involved process, with doctors monitoring patients’ reactions to their gluten-free diet over time. Today all it takes is a simple test to determine whether someone has celiac. People with the condition will have anti-tissue transglutaminase antibodies in their bloodstream. If a blood test confirms the presence of these proteins in a patient, doctors will then take a biopsy of their intestine to confirm the root cause.

12. The gluten-free diet doesn’t work for all patients.

Avoiding gluten is the most effective way to manage celiac disease, but the treatment doesn’t work 100 percent of the time. In up to a fifth of patients, the damaged intestinal lining does not recover even a year after switching to a gluten-free diet. Most cases of non-responsive celiac disease can be explained by people not following the diet closely enough, or by having other conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, lactose intolerance, or small intestine bacterial overgrowth that impede recovery. Just a small fraction of celiac disease sufferers don’t respond to a strict gluten-free diet and have no related conditions. These patients are usually prescribed steroids and immunosuppressants as alternative treatments.

13. If you don’t have celiac, gluten probably won’t hurt you.

The gluten-free diet trend has exploded in popularity in recent years, and most people who follow it have no medical reason to do so. Going gluten-free has been purported to do everything from help you lose weight to treat autism—but according to doctors, there’s no science behind these claims. Avoiding gluten may help some people feel better and more energetic because it forces them to cut heavily processed junk foods out of their diet. In such cases it’s the sugar and carbs that are making people feel sluggish—not the gluten protein. If you don’t have celiac or a gluten sensitivity, most experts recommend saving yourself the trouble by eating healthier in general rather than abstaining from gluten.

14. The numbers are growing.

A 2009 study found that four times as many people have celiac today than in the 1950s, and the spike can’t be explained by increased awareness alone. Researchers tested blood collected at the Warren Air Force Base between 1948 and 1954 and compared them to fresh samples from candidates living in one Minnesota county. The results supported the theory that celiac has become more prevalent in the last half-century. While experts aren’t exactly sure why the condition is more common today, it may have something to do with changes in how wheat is handled or the spread of gluten into medications and processed foods.

The Fascinating History Behind Why Jewish Families Eat Chinese Food on Christmas

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For Jewish New Yorkers, scoring a seat at one of veteran restaurateur Ed Schoenfeld’s Chinese eateries on Christmas Day could be compared to a holiday miracle. “I think on that day we do more business than many restaurants do in three months,” Schoenfeld tells Mental Floss. “We serve all day long, we stay open all day long.”

Schoenfeld is the Jewish owner-operator of RedFarm, an Asian-fusion dim sum restaurant with two locations in New York (plus one in London), and Decoy, a West Village shrine to traditional Peking duck. While his expertise lies in Far Eastern cuisine, Schoenfeld grew up in Brooklyn and learned to cook from his Eastern European grandmother. And just like his customers, Schoenfeld and his family sometimes craved Chinese food on Christmas, eschewing homemade fare for heaping plates of chow mein and egg foo yung. The future restaurateur's grandmother kept a kosher kitchen, but outside the home all dietary laws flew out the window with the single spin of a Lazy Susan. Suddenly, egg rolls with pork were fair game, transfigured into permissible delicacies through hunger and willful ignorance.

As Gentiles feast on turkey and roast beef during the Yuletide season, why do many Jews opt for chop suey? For starters, it's convenient: Chinese restaurants are open on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. But as historians and culinary experts tell Mental Floss, other ingredients play a part in this delicious story.

Jews developed their love for all things steamed, stir-fried, and soy-sauced after leaving the Old Country. Between the mid-1800s and the 1930s, waves of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, Germany, and Greece began settling in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, a gritty, inexpensive neighborhood teeming with tenements, docks, and factories—and filled with synagogues and kosher butcher shops. “You started here, and then moved on," Sarah Lohman, author of Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine, says.

While Jewish immigrants found community on the Lower East Side, "there was a lot of discrimination against Jews at the turn of the century,” Lohman adds. "They were often criticized not only for not dressing like Americans and not speaking the language, but also for not converting to an 'American' religion."

Right next door to the burgeoning Jewish community on the Lower East Side was the city's nascent Chinatown. Many Chinese immigrants had initially come to the U.S. to work on the Transcontinental Railroad. After its completion in 1869, these laborers faced violence and discrimination in the western states. They came to New York City seeking new business opportunities, and some opened restaurants.

By and large, Chinese restaurateurs didn’t discriminate against Jewish customers. Joshua Eli Plaut writes in his book A Kosher Christmas: 'Tis the Season to be Jewish that the Chinese, as non-Christians, didn't perceive any difference between Anglo-Saxon New Yorkers and Jewish immigrants; they accepted all non-Chinese customers with open arms.

Jewish customers embraced Chinese food in return. The restaurants were conveniently located and inexpensive, yet were also urbane in their eyes. Jews saw dining out as an American custom that they wanted to try, largely because they sought upward mobility among other Americans. According to Yong Chen, a history professor and author of Chop Suey, USA: The Story of Chinese Food in America, "[Diners] were attracted to Chinese food because, in their mind, it represented American cosmopolitanism and middle class status." And they weren't deterred by the fact that food in Chinese restaurants wasn't kosher. But they could easily pretend it was.

Dairy wasn’t a big part of Chinese meals, so Jewish diners didn’t have to worry about mixing meat and milk (a no-no in kosher diets). And non-kosher ingredients like pork or seafood were often finely chopped, drowned in sauces, or mixed with other ingredients, like rice. These elements were well disguised enough that they could pass for more permissible forms of meat. “You could kind of willfully ignore that there might be pork in there," Lohman says. "It’s like a vegetarian eating a soup that has chicken stock. If you’re a little flexible about your Judaism, you would just ‘not notice’ the pork in your fried rice.”

Chinese food was exotic and new, filled with surprising flavors, ingredients, and textures [PDF]. But for some Eastern European Jews, it also had familiar elements. Both Eastern European and Chinese cuisines shared an affinity for sweet and sour flavors and egg-based dishes. "[Chinese restaurants] had these pancakes, which were like blintzes,” says Joan Nathan, author of King Solomon's Table: A Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking from Around the World, and the wontons resembled kreplach (both are meat-filled soup dumplings).

The fact that the Chinese and Jews were America’s two largest non-Christian immigrant populations brought them together, Jennifer 8. Lee, author of The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food, tells Mental Floss. Unlike, say, Italian restaurants, Chinese restaurants were open on Sundays and on Christian holidays. They also lacked religious imagery, which may have made them appear more welcoming for Jews.

Combined, these factors caused the number of Chinese restaurants in urban East Coast cities to skyrocket during the early 20th century. Jews soon accounted for 60 percent of the white clientele in New York City's and Philadelphia’s Chinese restaurants, Chen writes, and Chinese restaurants would often go out of their way to cater to these clients. The eateries delivered their food to Jewish neighborhoods and to individual customers.

Yet an unwavering affection for Chinese food wasn't shared by all Jews. In an example cited by Chen and Lee, a reporter for Der Tog (The Day), a Yiddish daily newspaper in New York City, noted in 1928 that Jewish diners were in danger of drowning their culinary roots in soy sauce. To take back their taste buds, Jewish-Americans should hoist protest signs reading “Down with chop suey! Long live gefilte fish!” the journalist joked.

But Jewish cookbooks had already begun including Americanized dishes like chop suey and egg foo yung, which Chinese chefs had specially created to appeal to homegrown appetites. And as Lower East Side Jews moved to different neighborhoods, boroughs, and suburbs, Chinese restaurants followed them.

By the mid-20th century, Nathan says, Chinese restaurants had become de facto social clubs in Jewish communities. Familiar faces were always present, children were always welcome, and eating with your hands wasn’t just encouraged—it was required. Everyone left filled with food and gossip, whether it was Christmas or an ordinary Sunday evening.

Thanks to immigration patterns, nostalgia, and convenient hours of operation, this culinary custom has stuck around. “Jewish guests want to go out and eat Chinese food on Christmas,” Schoenfeld, the Manhattan restaurateur, says. “It’s become a tradition, and it’s extraordinary how it’s really grown.”

This story originally ran in 2017.

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